Prairie Seeding and Establishment

Broadcasting prairie seed with a Vicon® seeder.

1. Seed prairie

  • Preparation. If perennial vegetation is present, terminate it with herbicide or tillage prior to seeding.
  • Diversity is key. A high diversity local ecotype mix will be the most resistant to weeds, and will provide the best habitat for wildlife.
  • Broadcast seeding. The best time to seed prairie is in the fall or winter–seed that is broadcast on the soil surface will gently work its way into the ground as it freezes and thaws going into spring. If broadcasting seed in spring, follow seeder with a cultipacker to ensure good seed to soil contact.
  • Planting with a drill. If using a drill seeder, plant as shallowly as possible so that tiny wildflower seeds will emerge.

A large flush of weeds emerge in the first spring. Mowing enables prairie seedlings to access sunlight and nutrients. Photo courtesy of Tim Youngquist.

2. Mow to establish

  • Year 1: Mowing is essential to ensure prairie establishment. Plan to mow three or more times–about every month during the first summer. If possible, mow at a height (about 4-6″) that clips the tops of the annual weeds but allows sunlight to reach prairie undergrowth. Use a type of mower and mowing frequency that ensure that clippings will not clump up and smother prairie seedlings.
  • Year 2: Plan to mow once or twice to clip off the top of weeds (at a height of 10-12″) when they grow above prairie plants.
  • Year 3: Plan to mow once (if needed) to clip off the top of weeds if they grow above prairie plants, or to discourage encroaching woody vegetation.

3. Maintain with disturbance

  • With careful mowing, prairie species like big bluestem and black-eyed susans may become apparent by the fall of the first year. Photo courtesy of Tim Youngquist.

    Conduct a prescribed burn, graze, or mow every few years (or more) to reinvigorate native prairie plants, and discourage woody and invasive species.

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